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Freight Train Graffiti

Freight Train Graffiti: cover By: Roger Gastman, Darin Rowland, Ian Sattler
Review Date: July 15th 2006
Reviewed by: duncan
Published by: Thames & Hudson
"Inadvertently, Nancy Reagan had introduced graffiti to the school children of the United States..."
"The good thing about painting freights is that it doesn't really harm anyone. It pumps up the volume on our society. Where everything is so predictable, graffiti still remains aloof"
"Every time I paint a freight, I feel like I'm throwing a message into a very large ocean..."
"I could dispatch my joys and blues and still remain anonymous and private in a public forum. ... That was the whole appeal of the concept: to be well known, yet anonymous. A monumental coast-to-coast mystery."
Colossus of Roads
freight trains
"God bless the railroad system"

Freight Train Graffiti is the latest in a line of graff books written or edited by Roger Gastman (founder of While You Were Sleeping graf magazine), so you can be assured he knows his stuff. What he's done here is document one aspect of the scene in fine detail. If you didn't know much about freight train graffiti before, this book will give you a good introduction to its past, present and future.

The book is 350 pages, paperback, and densely packed with about 1000+ photos and text, including the thoughts of over 100 different graffiti artists.

After the preface and two forewords (including one from Henry Chalfant), the first chapter goes into the history of trains and the freight train system in the US in particular, from Stephenson's Rocket to the present day. It's probably the least exciting part of the book, but it gives you an understanding of the history and importance of the freight lines. This chapter only has one graffiti pic in it, but the rest of the book makes up for that; just about every other page has graffiti photos on it, with lots of full-page and double-page photo spreads.

Then the next chapter is a history of modern graffiti, from Cornbread to the present day. You're going to be familiar with most of this stuff, it includes a lot of oldschool NY subway pictures, as well as more recent stuff.

After this point, all the chapters are divided up into short sections, with just brief bits of text from the authors. The majority of the writing is anecdotes taken from interviews with graffiti artists.

Chapters 3 and 4 look at how freight train graffiti started in the early 1980s, from its West Coast origins inspired by New York's subway graffiti, through the growth of the phenomenon in the 90s.

Chapters 5 and 6 look at various aspects of this graffiti scene, and the new generation of freight train writers.

Chapter 7 is chase stories, the buff and other kinds of opposition.

Chapter 8 is about "Monikers", aka hobo graffiti, which predates aerosol graffiti. It turns out much of this is actually done by railroad workers rather than freight-hopping hobos. I particularly enjoyed this chapter, perhaps because it's something a bit different from what I'm familiar with, but in the same milieu.

Then a conclusion and glossary. As an aside, how long will it be before we stop seeing glossaries in graffiti books? Maybe only once graffiti culture is totally normalised into the mainstream...

The book as a whole is very well-written, the main text of each section is concise and insightful. The authors generally let the writers speak for themselves, telling their stories in their own words. There's a lot of famous writers in here, including Zephyr, Smith, Pink, Iz the Wiz, etc, as well as plenty new school names. Their collective wisdom speaks volumes. There's lots of good quality photos documenting the scene and showing the freights in context with their location. Even though this is documenting a specifically North American graffiti scene, this book should appeal to any graffiti fan.

The book is available to buy from Amazon and all good bookshops.

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